I found myself sitting in the cold classroom that first morning of Meat Fabrication wondering what I would be learning in this class, excited to be continuing on my journey towards a culinary degree. That first day proved to be uneventful, simply learning how the class was to be run and what was expected of each of us. The audacity of the next few weeks
would be enough to push me as close as I had come to eating a vegetarian diet.
I had, in the past, like so many people considered eating vegetarian. The curiosity first starting around 15 or 16, probably for the sake of rebelling against my parents and just trying to stand out in life. My mother had noticed that whenever we went to Subway I would always order a vegetarian sub-sandwich. She asked me one day if I would like to eat vegetarian and that she would be willing to cook that way for me. I told her I was just eating it occasionally, but found myself cooking my food that way more and more often. Never quite getting to the point of an all-out vegetarian diet.
Back at culinary school we were in the lecture half of our day of class, with the first half being spent downstairs in the kitchen learning how to “fabricate” all sorts of different kinds of meats, todays lesson: “frenching” a lamb rack in under three minutes. We all found ourselves watching videos on how cows and chickens were slaughtered. Mind you, this wasn’t any A&E special sparing the nasty bits of the business, this was a sort of homemade version that got right down into the plant from the airbolt shot on the forehead of the cows to the skinning and grading of the cattle.
The videos were enough to tear at one’s heartstrings and to cause some to get queasy . If you have ever read Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle or Fast Food Nation then you know the basics of what goes on in these meat processing plants, but let me tell you it is nothing in comparison to seeing it firsthand, even on video.
Between the videos we watched and the dozens of animals I learned to descale, cut apart and turn into manageable and marketable products to be used in our school’s two restaurants or in the real world in my own, I had seriously been thinking about becoming vegetarian. But let me tell you that if you think you are criticized and questioned by friends,
try being a chef and vegetarian. This was daunting to me in the beginning, admitting one was a vegetarian or even considering it brought on an onslaught of criticism from coworkers and bosses alike. But this was quickly proving to be something I would overcome to appease my own need to eat healthy and ethically.
After finishing culinary school and starting work in the world of culinary arts I had all but lost the idea of being vegetarian. I had taken classes in nutrition so I knew the benefits of a plant-based diet and how to eat healthy to get all the nutrients I needed. I was already avoiding red meat and eating a lot of soy products and vegetarian foods, but was also still eating chickens and sea creatures. Finally being completely on my own I realized how easy it would be to eat fast-food meals and not caring about what I put in my body. It is cheaper, easier and faster to eat out all the time and to eat at McDonald’s or Burger King, conversely it takes time and money to eat healthy not to mention how much more it costs to eat organically. But I found I wanted to take care of my body and to encourage others to do the same, from my sister to people I would run into at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s.
In the past year or so I had seriously considered going to a full-vegetarian diet and tried it many times. If you ever find yourself in charge of a restaurant and trying to switch to vegetarian, the temptations are endless! From having to work with meat on a constant basis to smelling it all-day long is not an easy thing to overcome, but then again it does relent one to amazing access to all kinds of meat-alternatives on a daily basis. Still, I was trying and for the most part doing much better than I had in the past to attaining a long sought after goal.
One additional task that is difficult to make a decision on is a special one in the instance of being a vegetarian chef. It is an even more specialized field than a pastry chef or baker, with less job opportunities and a much smaller market of people willing to eat at a meat-less restaurant. Lets face it, we are a nation addicted to meat, a nation where summers surround grills loaded with sausage, beef and chicken and winters entice stews, chilies and casseroles. To make it in the already difficult industry of restaurants, a chef almost must have meat on the menu, which poses an ethical question: Can I still
justifiably serve meat while not eating it for the same reasons? I have yet to find that answer.
Since discovering Vegetarian Food for Thought about two months ago, I have been inspired to become a full vegetarian. At the moment I have a job that allows me to travel the world for next-to-nothing, but I miss cooking terribly and will soon return to that career path, after having taken the time to travel to a lot of countries tasting indigenous food and tasting true regional cuisines. I have finally to come to the path of a true vegetarian for two main reasons; most importantly, a
plant-based diet requires far less acres to sustain than a meat-based, thus providing the opportunity to produce more food for the starving people of the world. Second, I believe that we, as humans, are built to support a plant-based lifestyle, living with the planet and eating lower on the food chain.
How was I to know on that first day of Meat Fabrication, in that cold, corner classroom that I would in the future influence my friends to eat healthier and to promote, to everyone I know the advantages of a vegetarian diet. Everyone grows and changes and I like to think that I have helped even a few people learn about a healthier life and a tastier one at that.